Instead of exchanging wedding vows in front of friends and family,
Kalin Thompson prepared her home for evacuation.
--Kristina Stanley, Blaze (Kindle loc. 35)
After the first six months of interviewing authors here on WWK, I realized that an interview, in and of itself, was an endorsement. So, when I agree to read and interview authors, I now do so with the condition that I like what I read unless I’m already a fan. It was a condition that I gave to Kristina Stanley because I was unfamiliar with her writing. What I found, after being hooked by the first sentence, which I’ve quoted above, was a primer on how to write a novel. I turned the page to the second chapter and realized she’d hooked me right from the start.
Kristina starts with an interesting situation. She adds complications that stress the main character and keeps them coming. Her characters have interesting backstories, enabling the reader to easily differentiate among them. This is one book that I may study and use as a reference. For all readers, the mystery is satisfying, but for readers who are also writers—this is also a textbook to learn about pacing, character development, and plotting. It’s no wonder that Kristina is a bestselling author.
Please welcome Kristina Stanley to WWK. E. B. Davis
Kristina—Your education is in computer mathematics. Your work was unrelated to writing. How did you learn to write novels?
As with anything, time and dedication go a long way. I first took an online Writer’s Digest course, then I attended the Humber School for Writers correspondence program. Joan Barfoot, was my mentor. Joan is a Scotia Giller Prize and Trillium Book award shortlisted author. I participated in the Crime Writers of Canada mentorship program with Garry Ryan as my mentor. Garry is the award-winning author of the Detective Lane Mysteries. Having professional authors critique my manuscripts greatly improved my writing. I still reference the material I collected from them. I’ve also read hundreds of how-to-write books. I love to study the craft and believe I’ll always have something new to learn.
How did you get published? Did you secure an agent or submit to publishers?
I had an agent for a couple of years, but when she retired I decided to try finding a publisher without an agent. My break came in 2014 when DESCENT was shortlisted for Crime Writers of Canada Unhanged Arthur award and BLAZE was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association for Debut Dagger. Both awards are for excellence in crime writing by an unpublished author. Having two novels shortlisted garnered interest from publishers. One day I read DIVINE INTERVENTION and thought my writing style was similar even though the genre was different. I decided to check who published the novel and discovered Imajin Books. I submitted both DESCENT and BLAZE to Imajin Books and was awarded a two-book deal.
I believe being shortlisted for the awards pushed me to the top of the slush pile.
When you conceived of the series, did you map Kalin’s character arc for each book?
Not at the beginning. Because I finished DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE before signing with Imajin Books, I was able to go back and work on her character arc. In fact, I wrote AVALANCHE first, then DESCENT, then BLAZE. On the advice of my agent, I reordered the novels so DESCENT was first. That meant the character arc had to change quite a bit.
Your book is set at Stone Mountain Resort. Where are the Stone Mountains?
Stone Mountain is a fictitious resort. It’s based loosely on Panorama Mountain Resort located in the Purcell Mountains. This is the range west of the more famous Rocky Mountains.
Kalin Thompson is the Human Resources Director of the resort. You served in a similar capacity at one point in your career. I was surprised that the security department fell under Kalin’s responsibility. Is this normal or did this make for a better story?
When working in a ski resort at a director level, an employee is expected to take on all kinds of responsibility based on need rather than background. The resort is in an isolated community and it’s difficult to attract people to the area. In such an environment, many people ended up in unexpected jobs. I liked the way it forced Kalin to perform outside of her comfort zone, so I hope it made for a better story.
When a fire breaks out at the home Kalin and her fiancé, Ben, are building, it consumes part of the resort. Ben is one of the firemen fighting the blaze. He uses terms I’m unfamiliar with. What is a SCBA unit? A Sentinal System? An AED unit?
A Sentinal System is a portable solution for firefighters that provides real‐time data on deployed firefighter location, health and equipment status, and the environmental conditions inside the burning structure.
An AED is an automated, external defibrillator. You’ll see these around tourist attractions, ski resorts, golf course, etc. They are easy to use and the idea is that a person requiring CPR will have a better chance of survival if the AED monitors the victims condition and decides what actions are required.
I chose not to spell out the acronyms as I thought it sounded stilted, and I hoped the reader would understand the concept without it being explained.
Some of your characters use their dogs as to assess the character of others. Do you take your dogs’ judgment into consideration?
I certainly do. If my dog doesn’t like a person, I usually wonder why. I used to have a yellow lab that came to work with me, and the running joke in our office was that she should do the hiring. If a person who was aggressive, angry, on drugs, or perhaps under the influence of alcohol entered our office, she would stiffen and stand between me and the person. Normally she was a friendly, happy dog, so when she indicated there might be an issue, I listened. Her name was Chica and the character, Chica, in the book is based on her.
The backstory of characters play a part in the plot. Was it plot first or character first?
Character first. I love to write about characters and then see what they are going to do. For each book, I decided what the crime was. Often, I don't know who committed the crime until I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft. I’ve even completed a first draft and then gone back and rewritten it so a different person committed the crime.
This is a tricky question. I think we can influence what happens in life, but I don’t think we can control it. Happenstance does have a big part in real life, but in a novel it might feel construed.
My favorite secondary character in Blaze was Pete Chambers, the builder. He seemed like such a nice guy, who loved his dog, and had a tragic past. Others take advantage of him. Did he remind you of anyone in real life? Will we find out in the next book if his current relationship is successful?
He didn't remind me of anyone in real life, but I like him too. You will find out in AVALANCHE what happens between him and Susan.
What is your favorite motive for murder?
I like the motive to be strong enough that a rational person might consider it. I can’t say I have a favorite, but I do like to explore why someone would commit murder.
Avalanche, the next book in the series, will be released this year. What’s next for Kalin, and when will the book be released?
The plan is to have AVALANCHE released during the summer of 2016. Here’s a quick description.
On a cold winter morning, deep in the Purcell Mountains, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed hours before Kalin Thompson’s brother, Roy, disappears in an avalanche.
Under normal circumstances, as the director of security, Kalin would lead the investigation into the theft, but Roy is the prime suspect. The police and the president of the resort turn their sights on Kalin. She’s told to stay clear of the investigation and risks her job to covertly attempt to clear Roy’s name.
Threats against Kalin escalate as she gets closer to the truth. Is her faith in her brother justified? Was the avalanche an accident or did something more sinister happen? And is the truth worth destroying her life for?
I have a feeling I know the answer, but—are you a beach or a mountain person, Kristina?
When I’m on the beach, I’m a beach person. When I’m on the mountain, I’m a mountain person. I’ve spent 9 years of my adult life living on a sailboat and 8 years living in the mountains. That’s pretty even, I’d say.